Henrik Evensen is a twenty-six year old Digital Artist from Norway. He is currently working at Storyline Studios, a small post-production company that does work on local live-action films, TV series and commercials. Evensen is given lots of different tasks over at Storyline and he’s become a very versatile artist because of it. He says: “I’m a generalist, doing anything from concept-art and matte painting to modeling, rendering, you name it!” During the interview, he told us that he worked there for two years now, and did six months of freelance work prior to that.
Evensen has a background in 3-D. After all, he went to a school that’s specialized in it and learned all about it over the course of three years. Originally, he wanted to try learning traditional art but gave up on it, “I just found it way too hard, couldn’t do it.” he tells us. He heard about the school shortly after he gave up on traditional art, and he applied on the very same day! He knew a little bit about 3-D already since his older brother showed him Maya Personal Learning Edition when he was just a kid. He spent three years at that school. The first year was all about getting to grips with the software, so he did a introduction to 3ds Max course and learnt about the basics of the 3-D pipeline. Next, he spent a year doing a course on game design which he didn’t enjoy as much as he expected. After that, he did a course in 3-D for film production during his last year, but said that “This was mostly just a year of personal studies.”
He was actually learning digital painting in his spare time whilst he was at school. But he would eventually give up on painting again. It was tough, he said that he really wanted to learn it but didn’t have anyone to teach him how to do it right, so it was just frustrating for him. He found Feng Zhu’s YouTube channel a little later and started watching it every day. It did very little for his actual painting skills but he said that “I had sort of a “Hollywood moment,” where I couldn’t sleep one night because I was miserable from wanting to paint so bad, feeling like it was impossible. Then I remembered that quote about trying to understand how stuff works, rather than just doing it a lot, and something clicked.“
The work he does for local live-action projects now doesn’t do much for him anymore, so he’s now working to move his way into 2D animation because he believes that this medium is much freer. He is here today to tell us a little bit about how he plans on changing direction and getting into the world of animation, whilst also giving us more details about his artistic journey so far.
Tell us about your journey so far.
Sure! I’ve been drawn (pun intended) to drawing and painting since I was a little kid, but always sucked at it! I remember starting to look online for tutorials back when I was maybe 14, and really trying to “crack the code,” but I could never seem to get the hang of it. This was also true for 3D, which my brother introduced me to when he brought home the Maya PLE (Personal Learning Edition) for the Mac one day. I played around with that a bunch too, following tutorials and stuff, but I just didn’t get that either. Some years later I came across an ad for a school that taught a 3D & Animation program, allowing you to specialize further in either Game Design or 3D Film in the second year. I spent three years there, doing all three programs respectively, effectively doing the second year twice.
I also started trying some digital painting at the same time I started my 3D studies, as I really wanted to do that more than I wanted to do 3D. However, I still didn’t understand it and no matter how hard I tried I wasn’t getting any better. I had access to a subscription to The Gnomon Workshop and would watch all the tutorials I could, I was super inspired, but I still wasn’t making any progress. Painting just seemed like a magical skill that you either had or you didn’t, because all anyone ever talked about in the tutorials was what they were doing, but never how they were doing it. I eventually gave up, and decided to focus all of my attention on 3D, which I felt I was getting the hang of by the end of the first year. About a year later though; I heard Feng Zhu talking about “understanding the fundamentals of light, color, composition, etc, rather than just spending tons of time drawing,” and that became the turning point for my digital painting “dream.”
A while later I had sort of a “Hollywood moment,” where I couldn’t sleep one night because I was miserable from wanting to paint so bad, feeling like it was impossible. Then I remembered that quote about trying to understand how stuff works, rather than just doing it a lot, and something clicked. I got out of bed, at three in the morning, spent a painful 60 bucks (student economy you know) on a video on how light works, and just watched that over and over until things started making sense. The effect it had on my painting was immediate, and from that point on things started falling into place.
My paintings were still crap, but now I understood what I had to do, and had experienced my first “breakthrough,” which really got the ball rolling. So I vowed to keep training my digital painting in my spare time while putting most of my focus into 3D so that I could get a job doing something I was more comfortable with. That’s basically been the way of things ever since. Six months after I graduated I got a job as a modeler on a local project, which then led me to getting a job at Storyline Studios, where I work now. I kept working on my digital painting and have now also started getting some freelance concept-art and illustration work.
What motivates you to create art?
To say it is just the innate drive to create interesting and compelling images is a boring answer. I mean; in the grand scheme of things that’s what keeps me going. Couple that with a need to be “the best” at anything I take an interest in, and you’ve got a pretty persuasive taskmaster. On a more practical note; I do struggle with times of little to no motivation, where I sit down to paint but spend two hours refreshing my Facebook home page instead. Sometimes the lack of motivation is superficial and I just need to find something to spark my imagination, in which case it’s a pretty quick fix. However, more often than not it’s because I feel like I’ve stagnated. Anyone who has ever played a video game, especially a MMO, can probably relate to the idea that a feeling of progression is one of the strongest motivators out here. A continuous sense of moving towards a goal will keep you going for hours! Only once you feel like you’ve stopped progressing and you start to notice inconveniences like fatigue, hunger, or the fact that you haven’t slept for thirty six hours.
So how do I maintain a continuous sense of progression in my own work? Let’s be real: I don’t. But what I try to do, which has gotten me this far at least, is that I look for practical, concrete things to learn, that can be applied with immediate effect. It’s the difference between “just paint a lot and you’ll get good eventually” and “go watch this video on how light works three times, then shade this sphere in five different lighting setups, and return to me for your next assignment.” The latter is a track-able thing, and when you do that you’ll know all this useful stuff that you didn’t know 4 hours ago, and you’ve made tangible progress towards your goal as a result. Good job!
Get yourself a bowl of ice cream, watch an episode of Band of Brothers, then get back to work. This is what all that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – crap, your annoying Facebook friend keeps re-posting, is all about! Short term goals, basically. Nothing is less motivating than “I’ll be really good in eight years of painting a lot.” Screw that. Painting is just a word that sums up the act of using pigment as a means for applying your knowledge of light, color, composition, form, design and all that jazz, in making an image. If you don’t have any knowledge to “apply,” painting a lot isn’t going to do much good to you. I can’t paint a masterpiece yet, but I’ll shade you a sick-ass sphere any day of the week, and guess what, tomorrow I’m putting eyes on that sucker! Do you see what I’m saying?
I hope that made sense.
How did you go about finding a personal style?
Honestly; my style at this point is about as deliberate as my hairdo when I get out of bed in the morning. I think of it as the sum of my current understanding of fundamentals and technique, tempered with a little bit of personal taste and some influence of artists I’m inspired by. It’s basically arbitrary, and it’s going to have to change quite a bit before I can claim to have found anything of my own. Ask me again in ten years.
Norway is a beautiful country and I imagine it would be quite inspiring for an artist. Do you go out to see the nature often?
Of course! I currently live in the city and I am actually spending most of my time in front of a computer screen. But I do take regular trips to the forests and fields, especially when I am out where my parents live. I haven’t really been around to see the more spectacular sights, but I love walking around the local hills and forests. We’re very lucky to have all four seasons in full effect here, and I think we have very beautiful “everyday environments.” Everything is very small scale, and most places outside the cities have this rural feel that I really enjoy. You can still sort of imagine how life must’ve been a hundred years ago in a lot of places, you know? I’ve always had a thing for that, places that feel homey and local, where normal people lead normal lives. There’s just something special about it.
Sightseeing at Crones Rock
Walk us through the processes you used when creating your favorite portfolio artwork.
I think it’d be most relevant if I talked about my digital painting process for this, which is pretty much the same for all of my images. The way I paint has been pretty similar to the way I’d model, texture, light and render a 3D scene. I’ve been using a very layer-heavy approach where I break things down into multiple separate steps, so as to deal with as few things as possible at a time. I keep my sketches loose and fluid, but when I get something I want to finalize; I break up all the shapes into background, middle ground and foreground layers, as well as any other elements I know I’ll want to control separately from their surroundings. I even name those bad boys, cause I’m a freak. I also keep secondary lighting and texture layers as clipping masks, for each of the primary shape layers, sometimes multiple.
The idea is to control every single part of the painting and make sure I’m directing, rather than reacting to my own painting. It also helps to make sure I’m applying everything I know to the best of my ability, by giving it my full attention. I find that when I try to multitask and merge steps, I just end up doing all of them badly, so I force myself to be patient. I’ll start in greyscale, working the composition, shapes and basic value-structure, then I’ll start to introduce some basic lighting and texture information before I move into color. Once I’ve moved into color, most of the framework is there and I’ll start to let go and just do whatever seems like a good idea at the time.
It’s a pretty common workflow, and I think I was drawn to it because of my background in 3D art. It sort of mimics the idea of blocking out a base mesh, then adding shape detail, moving on to do the shading, texturing and lighting, etc. It’s what’s allowed me to get the best results out of my current skill level. While it does take a bit of time before the image starts to come together with this approach, it can make up for that in how flexible you become when having to make changes, even on illustrations that are nearly finished. It’s superb for learning purposes too! I am beginning to move away from it a bit now though, and trying out other approaches, as I don’t want to be limited to a specific workflow.
Tell us a little bit about the work you do at Storyline Studios. Are you working on any notable projects right now?
Storyline Studios is one of the biggest post-production companies in Norway, though it’s still very small by international standards. Our entire VFX department is made up of around 10 guys, give or take a couple of freelancers. Naturally, most of us are generalists, though I’m currently the designated 2D guy. I do most of the concepts and any matte-painting that comes up, though there tends to be a lot more 3D overall. We work with a lot of local projects, doing mostly VFX for Scandinavian films or TV shows, commercials, art-installments, all kinds of stuff. It’s a healthy variety, but it’s mostly based on live-action. In terms of notable projects, I don’t really think there are any that anyone outside of Norway would’ve heard of.
Has working in-house at a studio like that helped you improve? Is it better than working from home?
I came into the studio after spending three years at a school that seemed very detached from the industry it was educating people into. Looking back on how green I was when I first started at Storyline, I have to give props to the guys for allowing me the time and space to grow. And grown I have. There really is no substitute for how quickly you improve when having to deliver work at a higher quality than you’re currently capable of, on a daily basis, while surrounded by helpful people who are all better than you.
Of course you feel like you’re gonna have a mental breakdown every other week, but it has you sprinting up that learning curve as if your life depended on it. I definitely prefer the studio to working from home. The social aspect is a huge part of that, but also just the push and inspiration of having people around you who are doing great work, and wanting to keep up with them. I only wish there were more 2D guys around, but sadly, they are few and far between.
You said that you want to work on animation projects. Why animation and not something else instead?
It wasn’t so much to say that I only want to work on animation projects, but rather that I’m really into stylized stuff. Moving away from how we see things in the real world (though one should still reference it) allows for a different and more creative visual expression. I’d love to work on a video game, a graphic novel, an animated film, anything really! I just find that the impact of a well art-directed story, regardless of medium, can be incredibly striking, as it’s also bringing a potentially unique visual perception to the viewer as an additional layer. The opportunity to completely customize every inch of every frame to enhance the impact of your story is an incredible thing! And now that I’m done regurgitating my visual storytelling class onto my keyboard, I am just gonna tell you that I simply think it’s a lot more fun.
Colors and chimneys
What’s next for Henrik Evensen?
Well, right now I’m going to go play some World of Warcraft. Once I’ve done that for a bit I’m going get back to shading spheres, so to speak. I want to be able to create some truly compelling stuff one day, and I’ll need to be in complete control of my craft to be able to do that. So I’m playing the long game (yes I just watched the video). I’ll be trying to get as good as I possibly can, and making an effort to pick the most interesting routes along the way. By the looks of it, my next destination will be Scotland, though I don’t know what I should say where just yet, I’ll tell you that I’m going to be working as a lighter for a while. What comes after that is completely unknown to me, but hopefully it involves more of the same, or something similar… and ice cream, which is my first ever passion.